Email from a friend in industry:

I want to help my students put together the portfolios and reels that employers are looking for. Can you advise me on what makes a good reel?

What makes a good reel... hmmm ... It should be short - apx 2-3 minutes max. If you haven’t caught someone's eye in the first 30 seconds they will never see the rest of it. They should pick three things that they do exceptionally well and focus on it. Whatever they choose to show, it needs to show personal attention to detail; it has to scream out that this is a person that thrives on zero sleep and seven day workweeks, 'cause that’s what they can expect. As my former boss used to say when he was at Digital Domain: Perfection is almost acceptable".

There should be absolutely no filler of any sort - filler is the killer. Everything should belong. If in doubt don’t show it.

In a way it's kind of unfair to have just one demo reel, especially if they are good at several things. I personally suggest tailoring the reel to the job you are applying for - if you have that luxury.

There are two schools of thought on what else should be included in a portfolio; some people say it should also include examples of traditional arts such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography. I'd say if that material is actually noteworthy and shows that the person has developed an eye or has skills that translate into the CG world, then include it. However, I'd also say that the decision is going to ultimately be based on how good their CG stuff looks... Don’t distract with lots of extraneous stuff...

I would suggest that students become very proficient in Unix shell scripting and even C programming. That is a crucial issue if we're talking about a major production facility. For instance, in our facility you have to be able to locate shots, files, maps, geometry, etc located on any one of over a hundred machines & pipe them into a script, application, renderque, etc. _without_ screwing up the data. If you crunch files or if you cant figure out how to find stuff you don’t last very long... A large amount of stuff is still done via a command line; almost all of our compositing is done with text scripts - there is no visual interface for the software. We use just about every package under the sun, so there is a lot of in-house "glue" that makes everything work together.

What are good job titles and descriptions that these students can specify or look for?

Hard to say... Modeler, lighter, animator... it varies from company.

I should mention that the industry is exceptionally tight right now. In Los Angeles alone there have been massive layoffs at most of the facilities, so you have seasoned professionals competing for the same jobs that the new kids are looking at... We laid off 75% of our office after the game was completed... Most of my friends have been job hunting since March. At our peak we had over 110 people here - we now have about 25.

Hope this helps- Dave

THANKS!

You're welcome!

Another thing that newbies to the industry need to realize is that while a strong artistic sense is greatly valued, what the business wants is highly competent *craftsmen* that know how to get results; they don’t want or need someone to second guess the art director's ability.

Even if it means sucking it up and deferring to a lousy look, make your art director happy and shot supervisor happy. They write your employee evaluations... (grin)

The industry you work in is NUTS! Do you have advice on jobs that may not be in California, many not be as much money, but are a bit more sane?

In my situation, remember how long it took for me to break in - I spent two full years of shopping my stuff around before it happened, and I worked two jobs and freelanced at night to make it happen. I also made myself highly visible in various newsgroups and email forums as someone very knowledgeable about the software and didn’t take obnoxious political stances on issues...

Television production is nationwide; corporate design and presentation is also. There are a lot of games companies that are not in the LA area worth checking into. Feature film is highly project driven. Most places only do per-project hiring these days. Very few staff positions, and they are generally drawn from people that have survived several rounds of layoffs following each project - kind of a survival of the fittest thing.

What kind of firm or business should the students target?

Small to mid sized production houses and game companies right out of the gate; the bigger houses have such a pool of talent to pick from that unless the applicant has real production experience under their belt they don’t have much of a chance.


OTHER MISCELLANEOUS SUGGESTIONS

REEL SUGGESTIONS

This is a list of suggestions for demo submissions stuff from someone at Tippett's studios. It's pretty good...

Having recently waded through several hundred character animation demo reels, I thought I'd offer up my reactions in the form of a list of tips and suggestions regarding such submission materials.

If anyone actually has the time to read this whole darn thing, please feel free to correct, append, edit as you like...(remember, this is just one man's opinions - )

 

Before getting specific I wanted to first mention what I feel is the best piece of general advice I can give to someone submitting a demo reel:

Imagine that the people who are going to review your work are the busiest, most disorganized and inconsiderate folks on the planet. You want to make it as easy and painless as possible for them to look at your work. Try to avoid anything that might contribute to them not being able to (or not wanting to) review your stuff.

COVER LETTER:

  1. Make it short and to the point. (See previous paragraph).
  2. If you are applying to a particular department, indicate this so we know who should be looking at the tape.
  3. If you were referred by someone, definitely mention this.
  4. Include a list of references. Most of us have had at least one or two bad experiences with colleagues in the past. If you don't steer your prospective employer toward folks who like you, they might stumble upon someone who doesn't.
  5. Avoid adjectives. I'm always suspicious when someone butters up their cover letter telling me how good their work is. "If your work speaks for itself, there's no need to interrupt." I want an applicant's animations to convince me of their talents, not their words. (6) Check your sppeling, grammur, punkshooayshun & typoez. This may not matter to some people but keep in mind that your cover letter is often your very first introduction to a prospective employer. Don't let your first impression indicate that you don't check your work and that attention to detail is not a priority for you.

RESUME

  1. Try to avoid listing irrelevant experiences.
  2. Do, however, list skills/hobbies/interests that might be relevant. If you're applying for a job at an interactive house that makes fighting games and you've studied karate, indicate this. Acting/mime/dance/gymnastics/etc are good skills to mention when applying for a job as an animator.
  3. Accentuate but DON'T LIE! If you were a janitor, say "custodial engineer". If, however, you were a grunt animator at a particular shop and one time you made a suggestion to a co-worker and they took it, don't call yourself an "animation supervisor".

DEMO REEL

  1. VHS. NTSC. It's a safe bet that the place to which you are applying has a standard VHS deck. They might not have a 3/4 deck or a PAL converter though. Don't send CD's or floppies or zip-drives unless you've called ahead and confirmed that they are able to view such formats.
  2. Put your best stuff first. Because of the volume of tapes I need to look at, if I'm not "grabbed" in the first ten seconds of a reel I tend to watch the rest in fast-forward mode until I see something that looks interesting enough to stop and look at in normal speed. Don't let me miss your best piece.
  3. Don't repeat animations. Please don't assume that I wanted to see that particular piece again. I do have a rewind button on my remote. Also, repeating animations implies you have a limited quantity of work and it looks like "filler".
  4. Keep it short. 3 minutes is a general target length.
  5. Include a reel breakdown. Unless EVERYTHING on the tape is 100% yours, it is essential that you include a descriptive list of your contributions to each shot. If you don't I am assuming that you are claiming that everything is all yours. If you have collaborative work on your reel, it is dishonest, annoying and downright criminal to not include a reel breakdown.
  6. DO NOT PUT OTHER PEOPLE'S WORK ON YOUR REEL! This should be the most obvious thing in the world but it happens. Just last week I received a reel without a breakdown that had work I recognized because it belonged to a friend of mine. After requesting a reel breakdown, the dishonest submitter admitted to "having had little to do with" certain pieces on the reel. Since this information was not initially volunteered I had been led to believe that he was claiming to have done those pieces himself. We do not make a habit of hiring deceitful people. My friend is actually considering a lawsuit against this individual. (Can you say "plagiarism"?)
  7. Don't send inappropriate work. A place that does children's educational software does not want to see blood and guts. We are a creature shop. Don't send us a tape full of spaceships and camera fly-throughs. This shows that you didn't take the time to find out about the company to which you are applying. Why should we then take the time to find out about you?
  8. Label your tape clearly and put your contact information in the body of the tape. Sometimes tapes get separated from their resumes. Make it easy for us to re-organize our piles.
  9. Pop your tabs. Remember, we are busy and disorganized. I might hit the "record" button instead of the "play" button accidentally. Remember, I'm thoughtless and inconsiderate.
  10. Rewind your tape. We WILL charge you $1.00!
  11. Include drawings on your tape ONLY if you truly think they will help your case. I will certainly be more inclined to want to interview a tape with borderline animations if there are really good figure drawings at the end. Strong fundamental skills are a good indication of someone's overall aesthetic sensibilities. However, don't include bad figure drawings just to demonstrate that you've taken a figure drawing class. Now, I'm not saying that you have to show figure drawings in order to get hired as a character animator, but don't go out of your way to show your weaknesses. It tells me that you aren't a good judge of your own work and will therefore need a lot of supervision.
  12. Show "acting". Let's face it, walk/run/flight cycles alone will not get you hired as a character animator anymore. Mainly because such motions can be easily copied from a variety of sources. Your animations need to convey emotions and thoughts through body language. Example: Don't animate a kid eating a bowl of peas. Animate a kid who hates peas but his mother is making him eat them anyway. If you can tell such a story through timing, posing and facial expressions alone, you will get hired. (I actually rarely have the volume on when watching tapes).
  13. Avoid large, cumbersome packages that are difficult to catalogue, file and shelve. I've seen them bent to fit into boxes. Which of course brings up: Don't send original artwork. It WILL get damaged.
  14. Don't show stuff you don't want to be asked to do.
  15. Wireframes with solid motion are better than fully textured renderings with mediocre motion. (You might accidentally get hired to do lighting!)
  16. Be careful when including work that isn't supposed to be publicly viewed yet. If you are showing me clips from a film that has not yet been released, you are telling me that you'd be willing to show OUR work before it's released as well. Make sure your interviewer knows that you've cleared it with your current/previous place of employ first.
  17. Make sure your tape really shows what you're capable of. I get a lot of tapes from ReBoot/Beast-Wars folks who mention that they have very little time to do a shot and the style is dictated very strictly. Given such restrictions I can't really judge their skills by seeing this work alone. When I get such tapes I immediately request additional work. Include personal stuff as well as professional work. I like to see what you can do on your own as well as what you can do on a team.
  18. Be honest with yourself. If your entire experience with character animation includes nothing more than having pulled off 2 walk cycles, you're probably not quite ready to offer your services as a character animator. Only apply to a place where you truly feel you can do the work.

INTERVIEW

  1. Be on time. Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions.
  2. Dress appropriately. You don't have to wear a suit, but error on the side of overdressing rather than under dressing. Don't worry; you're not going to insult a prospective employer if you are better dressed than they are. Chances are you will be...after all...they already have the job!
  3. Bring another copy of your reel/resume. Remember, I'm really disorganized, I might not have it

handy.

  1. Bring some additional work. Don't let me believe that your reel comprises everything you've ever done.
  2. Be very careful when speaking negatively about a former job or boss or co-worker. This is a very small industry. There's a chance your interviewer knows the person/place of which you speak. I lost a job opportunity myself because of this once.
  3. Watch for trick questions. "Oh...come on...you can show us those shots from that movie that isn't out yet...we won't tell anyone!" Or: "Hmmmm...I see you have 3 months to go before finishing your current project...we could really use you sooner...are you sure you can't just abandon your current team and join us now?" If you do it to them, you'll do it to us.

FOLLOW UP

Keep in mind it often takes a while before a demo tape gets reviewed. If you haven't heard anything for 3 weeks or so it is okay to call and make sure your tape was received.
But don't be a pest.

After an interview, it is a good idea to send a follow up letter thanking your prospective employer for taking the time to meet with you. Don't call unless you haven't heard anything for a while. And don't contact the company repeatedly.

If you don't get hired, resubmit your materials every 6 months or so. Our needs and criteria change all the time. Your skills/style might not have been appropriate for last year's project, but they might be right for this year's.

That's all for now.
Time for me to do some work...

Jeremy Cantor
Supervising Animator
Tippett Studio

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David Nix
Technical Coordinator/Animator,